Unparalleled leadership (1893-1965)

With education upto eighth standard, he rose to the rank of secretary and played a key role in transfer of power through merit and integrity.

Eldest in a family of twelve, V P Menon was born on 30 September 1893 in village Kothakurussi in Malabar. His father was an agriculturist. Menon studied upto Class eight and left school to work as a miner, construction labourer and teacher. He decided to try his luck at a government job and travelled to Delhi. His money had been stolen and a kind-hearted Sikh gentleman gave him 15 rupees.

Menon asked for his address so that he could return the amount. The Sardar told him not to return it and be kind to a person facing similar difficulty. Menon abided by this advice all his life. He reached Shimla as the Government of India had shifted to that city during summer and managed to get a job as a clerk in the Home Department. Following the reforms initiated by the Montagu-Chelmsford Report, a cell was created in the Home Department to deal with the reforms. Menon was posted to this cell and promoted Superintendent in 1930.

The Congress came to power in some of the provinces after elections in 1937. Menon had risen to joint secretary by now, a testimony to his grasp of constitutional provisions. On the break out of Second World War, the British Government tried to obtain support of the political parties in war effort and offered equal partnership in the Commonwealth after the war. Cripps Mission in 1942 failed to achieve any solution. The Congress declared Quit India Movement and most of their leaders were jailed. The process of granting independence to India was resumed after the War and a Cabinet Mission came to India. Menon was in the thick of negotiations for self government. The Muslim League wanted a separate state of Pakistan while the Congress and other parties stood for united India. At one time, a federal state appeared to be a good solution. It fell through when the Muslim League wanted the states to have the right to secede from the union. Menon kept Sardar Patel informed and scuttled a plan for a weak centre and strong states. The partition of India into two states as suggested by Menon was ultimately accepted by all the parties. Independence came with widespread communal riots and transmigration of population.

Sardar Patel who took over the newly created Ministry of States selected him as the Secretary. Menon took charge of the new job on 5 July 1947. The 564 states comprised nearly two fifth of the country with a population of about 86 million people. There were wide differences of opinion amongst the various states. Bhopal did not want any interference in the internal affairs of the states. Hyderabad wanted independence. Menon enlisted the help of Mountbatten and all the states signed the instrument of accession except Hyderabad and Jammu and Kashmir (J & K).

In Hyderabad, a complete reign of terror had been established by about two lakh Razakars, armed with small arms. At last, police action was launched on 13 September and the Hyderabad Army surrendered on 17 September 1948.

Maharaja Hari Singh of J & K had a difficult choice. There were no reliable surface communications with India and he was toying with the idea of independence. Large scale attack by armed Pakistanis left him no choice but to accede to India. Menon went to Jammu where the Maharaja had moved to on Menon’s advice, and got the Instrument of Accession signed by him. The Indian Army rushed to Srinagar and saved the state. Menon was far ahead of his times with a vision of India as a global competitor. Mountbatten wanted him to be independent India’s first ambassador to USA. After Sardar Patel’s death, he was pushed into the background. He joined the Swatantra Party in 1956. He was gifted with unparalleled integrity. Of the USD 60,000 he received for writing two books, he spent only a part of it and donated the balance to Pandit Hriaya Nath Kunzru’s Servants of India Society. In the mid-60s, his health began to fail and he passed away on 31 December 1965 in Jabalpur.

Brigadier Suresh Chandra Sharma (retd)